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Whether a manufacturer, a traditional retailer, or a niche eCommerce company, the task of managing soaring order volumes and meeting growing customer expectations remains a constant priority for any business. For warehouses and distribution centers (DCs), where service level agreements can be met or missed, the operators in charge of managing everything are under relentless pressure.
High order volume and proliferation of SKUs translate to inventory management constraints, reduced DC floor space, and a constant push for more output. As a result, modern warehouses have introduced or introduced automation in their existing receiving and shipping operations.
Recently, nearly 1,000 of the world’s leading manufacturing and supply chain solutions providers gathered at ProMat 2023 – one of North America’s largest trade shows catering to supply chain innovation – to showcase what the future holds for the industry. Here are the three main takeaways from this year’s show:
Companies are looking to automation – particularly mobile robotics – to ease labor constraints
In recent years, companies have become increasingly eager to add automation and have begun taking steps towards digitizing and connecting DC operations. Innovations such as automated storage and retrieval systems (AS/RS) – scalable solutions that maximize floor space, increase capacity and reduce workforce burden – are a logical entry point, helping improve inventory management and address SKU proliferation, while avoiding capital investment for facility expansion by utilizing unused vertical space in the warehouse.
Operators more advanced in their automation journey look to robotics to help lighten the workforce, increase warehouse productivity, reduce or eliminate errors, lower operating costs, and stay agile in changing market conditions.
The evolution of robots designed for the logistics industry is extraordinary, far beyond their original capacity to perform pre-programmed, repetitive tasks. The latest generation of smart robotics is able to function autonomously, adapt to constant changes, and scale operations up or down as needed.
Autonomous mobile robots provide multiple benefits by performing some of the most labor-intensive warehouse jobs, from moving pallets, carts or tote bags, to assisting human colleagues in picking and other operations. With the AMR market projected to grow almost $10 billion by 2030the company prioritizes investments that will increase the efficiency and productivity of its workforce.
Automation increases job security and satisfaction
Recently report from Deloitte found that companies that implement automated systems experience an average productivity increase of 30%. However, one thing that was clear at this year’s ProMat is that the benefits of this system don’t stop at increased productivity.
Integrating automation into day-to-day warehouse operations can prove to significantly improve workforce safety and job satisfaction. By taking on heavy, potentially hazardous tasks and operating in hazardous or hard-to-reach areas of the warehouse, automated solutions can help reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, creating a safer and more positive work environment. Automated solutions not only help make the workplace safer, they can also increase job satisfaction.
At this year’s event, the company showcased the capabilities of robotic depalletizers and unloaders to significantly improve warehouse safety. The Robitic depalletizer takes over the job of breaking down pallets, a common bottleneck in warehouses. Robotic loading and unloading replaces the need for workers to manually unload goods at the receiving docks, a job that is subject to some of the highest turnover rates in warehouses because of the intense levels of manual labor required. Both solutions eliminate two of the most demanding tasks in the warehouse, while increasing productivity.
Harvard Business Review Study found that automation helps free up workers’ time to do more interesting work that keeps them engaged and motivated. This allows companies to shift increasingly scarce labor resources to higher value jobs.
A survey from Salesforce reveals companies that implement automation into their daily operations have employees who are 89% more satisfied with their jobs and 84% more satisfied with their company. Furthermore, 91% of full-time workers say automation saves them time and offers a better work/life balance. It is clear that some workers also see value in increased productivity.
Automation interoperability is still a long way off, but possible
Warehouse operators may rush to automate their facilities to try and keep up with day-to-day operations. This can result in a disjointed array of systems and machines that fail to work together effectively. Now, these operators face the challenge of integrating disparate systems and inspection operations into the future.
Based on McKinsey Global Institute, the potential economic impact of automation in the global economy could reach between $1.4 trillion and $2.6 trillion annually by 2025 if automated systems and technologies can work together seamlessly, and this is why interoperability is so important. Interoperability can be loosely defined as the long-term compatibility of automated systems and their ability to work together seamlessly and “communicate” effectively for maximum efficiency.
Fortunately, there are solutions that can help realize this vision of interoperability. The solution acts as a central system or “brain” to interconnect disparate systems and robots, facilitates seamless exchange of data and information, unifies software controls and automated systems, and offers an end-to-end view of warehouse operations to enable more informed decision-making .
Finding future success
The use of automation within the warehouse is critical if operators are to successfully meet the challenges of increasing consumer demand and labor shortages. Innovative companies do so to meet increasing volumes of orders, fill workforce gaps, and tackle dangerous, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks, thereby enabling human resources to focus on more strategic work. To fully reap the benefits of this investment, every piece of the automated puzzle must work together seamlessly.